Beyond Navab Highway: Urban Modernism and the Creation of a “Non-neighborhood” in Tehran

This article will focus on the construction of Navab highway as a case study of the changing economic ‘rationality’ of urban governance in Iran. In 1990s Navab Street, an old North-South street linking many neighborhoods in central Tehran, has become a major element of the new strategic plan of Tehran highway network. The project, the largest demolishing and relocation project since the ‘crusade of street building’ in 1920, was included in Tehran’s first comprehensive plan (1968) as the only main North-South motorway to provide fast access to and from the North and the center of the city. This was a mega scale project, and the financial resources needed for purchasing the land and construction were so high that the municipality did not dare to start the project before the 1979 Revolution and during the war following the Revolution.
In the postwar era, inspite of the financial difficulties, the Tehran municipality initiated the implementation of the project. To finance the costs of the Navab project, the City decided to develop the land needed for the construction of the highway into a new urban complex with high density residential and commercial units. About 3 thousand families were relocated by compulsory purchase orders, and more than 130 high rise buildings with nearly 6 thousands apartments were constructed in a 30 meter wide strip bordering the 5 kilometer highway.
But the impact of the project goes beyond its physical borders. Navab laid the foundations of a new economic rationality for urban projects, especially restoration and upgrading projects, which could be summed up as relying on commercial and real estate surplus to finance the non commercial projects. I will discuss the social impact of such ‘economic rationality’ for the citizens, especially those who live in inner city neighborhoods and face renovation and upgrading projects.